Archive for April, 2011

Change is hard, still

Agile & Lean | Posted by Doc
Apr 17 2011

I had a chat with a new friend yesterday. We walked down the road from the hotel into Wolvercote, and chatted about life and work.

This fellow manages a development team. He’s concerned that they’re not as effective as he thinks they could be, that they have a low “bus factor” (my term), and that testing in particular is not what it could be. They have legacy code, and it sounded like they have quite a bit of specialization, in spite of having only four developers.

I latched onto that last point first. “Have you tried pairing?” I asked.

“No, I hadn’t really thought of it yet.”

Lots of intermediate discussion…

“What do you do when you have an odd number of people?”

I knew he was listening carefully, and yet I was getting a feeling of resistance. I tried to offer ways in which he could get buy in from the team, make some changes that would encourage them to think and examine the way they’ve been working, and make it a team thing, not something imposed from above.

“Well, I’m really concerned about the testers.”

I suggested co-location, or some version of it. He explained that they have separate two-person offices, and he can’t change that.

All of this got me to wondering whether he really wants to facilitate change, or he just wants to talk about it. He said some of the right things, but when it got down to actually doing it, he repeatedly explained to me how hard it would be, and what the obstacles are.

Change is hard. Embrace change only if you really believe that it has the potential to deliver benefit. And then embrace it wholeheartedly.

Clever recruiting stratagem

Musings | Posted by Doc
Apr 16 2011

I was chatting with my new acquaintance, Thomas Witt, at the ACCU2011 conference. As we were talking about my lightning keynote on Mastery Quest, we got off on a variety of topics around how to identify people who really know what they’re doing and how to weed out the fakes and system gamers.

He said a colleague of his started including something special in their job postings:

Include this word (<word>) in your cover note.

Of course, those who read the posting carefully see that and include the <word> in their cover note.  Many do not, according to Thomas.

He says that as they’ve tracked the correlation between those who do and do not include the <word>, and those who do well in interviewing and on the job, the correlation is high. Those who notice the requirement to include the <word> are more successful.


Separate blog: Mastery Quest

Musings | Posted by Doc
Apr 14 2011

I’ve decided to separate my work on play/games/learning/work (“Mastery Quest”) onto a separate blog, so that I can have co-bloggers.

If you’re interested in following this thing as it evolves, it’s at

The Hidden Project Plan

Agile & Lean | Posted by Doc
Apr 13 2011

As I’ve been doing training on Agile Fundamentals over the past 18 months, I’ve found myself talking about this consistently: The Hidden Project Plan.

Here’s how the story goes: you build a project plan, and do your best to manage to the project plan. Things drop out, like testing and documentation and training, as you run short on time and/or money, or your resources are committed elsewhere. Ultimately, with a system with multiple components/subsystems/systems, you get to the point of integration. Your project plan allows for some time to do the integration, including fixing the bugs uncovered during integration.

The problem I’ve seen over and over is that there are more bugs than anticipated, the team has been split up to work on other projects, there’s neither time nor money left for this project, and the developers and testers are multitasking from their new assignments to get these things fixed. Oh, and they’ve forgotten everything they knew about the code and tests that they wrote a year ago.

The time and effort and cost that are not part of the original project plan? That’s what I call “the hidden project plan”.

The short answer? Continuous integration / deployment / delivery, combined with effective TDD and automated functional testing. These things, along with a number of other agile practices, can reduce or eliminate the hidden project plan such that when a team says “it’s done” it’s really done.

Keynote @ ACCU2011: Simplicity

Coping and Communicating | Posted by Doc
Apr 13 2011

The keynote speaker at this conference, Giles Colborne, is talking about “Advanced Simplicity”. What’s fascinating to me is that he’s talking about some of the same stuff I’ve been talking about for 25 years or more.

He showed an example of a bank website that offered a way to select a statement: two drop down boxes for month and year, plus a “go” button. The problem was that you could select a future date, and get an error, or select a date more than twelve months in the past, and get an error. The simple solution was to provide a single drop down that only offered the users the months for which they could get statements. Simple.

Here are my design constraints:

  • Make it as easy as possible for the user to get it right.
  • Make it as hard as possible for the user to get it wrong.

Travel tip: call forwarding

Travel | Posted by Doc
Apr 06 2011

I’m in Sweden. It’s chilly and damp, much of the time.  I’m separated from my wife and children by thousands of miles and seven timezones.

I brought my iPhone 4 with me, just because I can’t bear to be away from it.  And I brought the unlocked LG phone I bought last year, which has a SIM card from O2 in the UK.

There was a balance on my SIM card, so rather than buy another one here in Sweden (mistake), I decided to use the one I have and use up the minutes.

First challenge: topping up my prepaid SIM. Can’t use an American credit card by web or phone. After a couple of hours of screwing around, I finally reached a real person.  She was lovely, after confirming that I can’t use my cards by web or phone and suggesting I go to an ATM.  “But I’m in Sweden,” I opined.

As I had also wanted to add their “International Favourites” plan, she was kind enough to say “I’ll add 15 pounds to your card, to cover the plan and give you some money so you can make important calls.” I was impressed with that. It’s not a lot of money, but that’s good customer service (after the abysmal experience with the website and automated phone stuff).

Once she gave me the credit, I was able to set up the International Favourites, which includes three US numbers to which I can make up to 3000 minutes of calls per month, and a direct-dial US number for them to call me so there are no international call charges from the US.

Here are the tips I learned from this:

  • If you have a SIM from another country, find out about topping it up. I’m going to set up auto-top-up when I get to London tomorrow. Then I’ll never have to deal with that again.
  • If the carrier has a plan like O2 does, with a number in another country, get it, because…
  • I have AT&T. Call forwarding is done at their switch in the US, not on my phone. So I forwarded my mobile number to the O2 number in Houston. This means that anyone can call me using my mobile US number, and they’ll be forwarded to my UK-based mobile without even knowing it!
    • I was at dinner last night, after setting this up fifteen minutes earlier, when my UK mobile rang. It was someone calling me from the US. It worked!
Now to figure out how to unlock my iPhone 3G and iPhone 4, and just put the SIM cards directly into them. 🙂

P.S. I got a prepaid SIM for my iPad here in Sweden. Fixed price, unlimited data. It’s worth the investment, since I’ll be coming back here again this year.  One for each country, maybe.

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